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Friday, 27 August 2010

Horse Boy Camps Worldwild - One Family's Experience

This is a guest post written by my friend. Having worked with children with autism myself I am appalled at the treatment of her family for what I would consider to be fairly "normal" and not particularly extreme autistic behaviour.

My uncle saw an article in the newspaper promoting the Horse Boy Camps and offered to send us there if we were interested as I have a 13 year old Autistic son.

It was terribly expensive, £1200 for 5 nights b&b - but finding somewhere able to cater for people with autism is incredibly hard, so that's the price you have to pay.

I read Rupert Issacsons book with interest, and we were able to book to go to the camp in Scotland running 24th to 29th July.

We arrived after a 7 hour journey on Saturday and a summary of our trip is here below;

From the booking it was a little disorganised, but they were in the process of one leader, Rhoda McGovern, leaving and a new one, Gillian Naysmith, starting so we thought that was just a minor blip.

We arrived at Ardlamont House on Saturday evening, a beautiful huge stately type house with attached cottages. We thought we were in a cottage, but we'd been told wrongly by Rhoda, and were in two rooms as the main house. Again, a bit disorganised but not a problem.

The house was beautiful, but not at all child or autism friendly with knickknacks all over - but the house owners were also apparently experienced in dealing with autistic children and adults, so obviously knew what to expect if they're opening their house to them.

Then we find out it's not b&b, but self catering. We'd brought other meals but not breakfast stuff and the nearest shops were 30 miles away including a ferry crossing. The other families complained and after the 'organisers' having some chats with the owners, they decided they would provide breakfast after all.

My party was myself, my severely autistic son Joe 13, my daughters Olivia 9 and Violet 18 months old. My Mum also came with us as my partner was unable to get the time off work. Gillian was there with her partner, her 9 year old daughter and her 6 year old autistic son. Another family had a 5 year old autistic son and a 2 year old daughter, and there was a lady with her 3 year old autistic son.

Saturday night the volunteers took Joe and Olivia and some other children up to the stables to meet the horses. We had some dinner and a lovely nights sleep.

Sunday we had a lovely cooked breakfast - Joe was a little unsettled and a little bangy but no where near as bangy has he could have been.

After breakfast we went up to the stables, and had horse and carriage rides around the estate. Joe observed the horses as I expected, but was quite happy with the volunteers watching what was going on - a lovely morning.

After breaking for lunch, we went back to the stables to ride down to the beach. Joe again observed, getting a little closer to the horses but not too close. Olivia & I got to ride down to the beach, then once at the beach everyone took turns riding. A couple of the little ones got onto horses, Joe and the 5yo boy again observed.
After a while Joe took me over to one of the horses and stroked it, which I thought was a breakthrough and I thought after a few days he might actually get onto one. Olivia & Violet were having a brilliant time getting to ride and play on the beach with plenty of people about to play with/help with Joseph so I could play with her.

Then we had some free time. We sat in the garden of the main house playing with the dogs and chatting, again a lovely afternoon.

Joe was quite happy outside in the garden and I went in to make a cuppa and start dinner while some of the volunteers stayed outside with Joe. Then Olivia came running in, Joe had smacked and broken a little pain of glass in a window. I went out to see what had happened and one of the paid staff, Karen Thursfield, said he was sitting there, very calm and chilled, when he got up and ran at the window.

It turns out (Olivia & a volunteer, Charley later told me) that this woman claims to be a 'healer' and when everyone else but her had gone inside, sat close to Joe and started waving her hands around his head/body & chanting, he'd jumped up and ran away distressed! He doesn't like strange people in his personal space and doesn't have the ability to tell them.

He was quite distressed after this but again, not as bad as he could have been, and calmed down and came in to eat dinner with us.

After dinner, the Gillian & Karen came into the kitchen where me & mum were doing our dishes. They said that they'd had a meeting and suggested we leave as this 'situation' isn't helping Joe as he is very unsettled. I said it's day one, he's autistic which means he doesn't like change to routine but for 95% of the day he'd been perfect. They said that they'd spoken to the Rupert Isaacson, and he'd also suggested we leave.

I was absolutely raging and told the organiser exactly what I thought of her and the organisation. I told her they were aware of Joes age when I booked, and if they only welcome younger easily managed autiistic children they should have said.

Interestingly, they've since changed their website. When we booked it was "open to all families who have children on the autistic spectrum'. Now it is for children on the autistic spectrum aged 2-12.

I mentioned a full refund and she said I could discuss getting a partial refund.

Not just because he's my boy, but in total honesty the other autistic children were a lot worse behaved than Joe, but they were all small enough to be picked up and taken to their rooms out of sight.

Mum suggested to them that maybe we're being sent home because they're worried seeing a 13yo autistic boy is worrying the other parents because they're seeing what they face in the future.

Two of the volunteers were absolutely devastated by the treatment we received.

One of them, Charley, was an absolute star. She was only 24, but works with autistic adolescents in Manchester. She was absolutely brilliant with Joe and you could see she was the only person there with any real experience. She'd told the organisers that they were being ridiculous and that she'd dealt with much worse behaviour than Joe was displaying but the organiser told her she'd been desensitised due to her job - an absolute insult to her and to my family.

Since we've returned, we've been passed from person to person with nobody taking any responsibility. The partial refund seems to have been forgotten. We're £1200 out of pocket and my children will be going back to school next week with only sad memories of the summer holidays.

I'd hate for any other family to experience similar treatment.

Be aware, these Horse Boy Camps are only suitable for you if your child is the 'right' type of autistic, and under 5' and 5 stone so you can hide them away when they're being 'autistic'.


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